Muster and Agassi return to Davis Cup action
Austria’s Thomas Muster returns to play Davis Cup this weekend for the first time since storming off the court in a match against Brazil last September.
After initially threatening to quit Davis Cup tennis, Muster is back on the team, which faces Croatia as it bids to return to the World Group.
Meanwhile, in the World Group quarterfinals, Andre Agassi hopes to break out of the worst slump of his career as he lines up for the United States against the Netherlands in Newport Beach, Calif.
Australia faced the Czech Republic in Perth, Italy hoped to counter Spain’s excellence on clay by staging their match on an indoor court in Pesaro, and South Africa played Sweden in Vaxjo.
Muster’s presence gives Austria a major boost. The left-hander is coming off his latest tournament victory, at the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., last weekend, and has strengthened his hold on the world No. 2 ranking.
Muster was fined $8,000 after his walkout in Sao Paolo, where he claimed Brazilian fans spat, swore and threw objects at him and tried to blind him with mirrors. The Austrian team defaulted its two singles matches, giving Brazil a 4-1 victory.
``If this is Davis Cup, I don’t want anything more to do with it,″ Muster said at the time. ``If I’m disqualified, it doesn’t matter to me.″
But he is back, scheduled to face Croatia and its star, Goran Ivanisevic.
Muster beat the fifth-ranked Ivanisevic in the Australian Open quarterfinals in January and ousted him in the final of the Dubai Open a month later.
Muster met Sasa Hirszon, 24, currently ranked 396th, in the second match today, while Gilbert Schaller opened against Ivanisevic. The best-of-5-match competition could hinge on Muster beating the big-serving Ivanisevic in the reverse singles on Sunday.
``If his service works, it doesn’t matter where or whom he plays,″ Muster said. ``An ace is an ace.″
Agassi has lost five consecutive matches and has won only three matches this year, dropping to No. 29 in the world. But the Las Vegas native holds a 13-match winning streak in Davis Cup matches.
Agassi and the resurgent Jim Courier are playing singles, while Rick Leach and Jonathan Stark team in doubles for the Americans.
The Dutch team features Jan Siemerink and Sjeng Schalken in singles and the potent doubles pairing of Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis.
American stalwarts Pete Sampras and Michael Chang are not playing this round because of scheduling conflicts, and the Dutch will be without Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek.
Carlos Moya, who has moved up to No. 8 in the world since reaching the Australian Open final, led Spain against host Italy. He played Omar Camporese in the opener. Italy’s Renzo Furlan faced 12th-ranked Albert Costa in the second singles.
Pat Rafter, who starred in Australia’s 4-1 first-round upset of 1996 champion France, played the opener against Czech Martin Damm at Memorial Drive, while Mark Philippoussis, at No. 24 Australia’s highest-ranked player, faced Jiri Novak.
Australia fielded its strongest side, but the Czechs have been hit by the retirement from Davis Cup play of stalwart Petr Korda and the unavailability of Bohdan Ulihrach, Daniel Vacek and Slava Dosedel.
Sweden lost last year to France in the closest final in history. This time, the Swedes must first overcome South Africa.
Thomas Enqvist, No. 7 in the world, faced Grant Stafford, while Jonas Bjorkman took on Wayne Ferreira on the first day.
Neither Enqvist nor Bjorkman has ever beaten the 10th-ranked Ferreira, but Sweden, the dominant Davis Cup nation for the past two decades, could prove too strong for South Africa.
Britain joined Austria and Croatia in bidding to reach the qualifying round for the World Group, but was the underdog against Zimbabwe after the withdrawals of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski with injuries.
The virtually unknown Jamie Delgado and Andrew Richardson carried British hopes against brothers Byron and Wayne Black, while Neil Broad and Mark Petchey play the brothers in the doubles.
In the remaining Euro-African Zone Group I matches, Belgium played host to Denmark and the Slovak Republic was at home to Israel. The winners move into the World Group qualifying round Sept. 19-21.